I have a friend who is terrified of flying because, he says, he cannot handle anything he cannot control. I did not want to offend him by saying, “Welcome to life.”
– Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver
The other day I got immensely bothered by my obsession with exercising increased control over life. It got me thinking: Doesn’t preference for order over chaos come naturally to humans? How much control do we really have over life?
For a theist, life is two things operating systematically together: God’s plans (For I know the plans I have for you…); and our actions (God cannot be mocked. You reap what you sow. …and that they toil and find satisfaction in their toiling is a gift from God.)
For an atheist, there are actions; there is a good share of statistics, luck (based on whether or not they believe in it), and whatnot. Is there hope in a godless world? Sure there is. But that hope is based on rationale, on things that can be seen and numbered. Oftentimes (and quickly) such hope can get lost.
But hope for a believer is everlasting. It does not depend on things that can be seen or numbered but is rather rooted in the character, the goodness of God. And so, having seen all misery man can see, and numbering all suffering one can number, the believer continues to hope against all hope.
But is this good God believers like to believe in, real? Is God real? The question of whether God exists far precedes the presentation of any case for his character. For me, godliness ‘superficially’ was instilled in me by my father. That God exists – was taught – through tales and songs, customs and festivals. Like any good parent, he never left enough space for me to imagine a world where there would be no God. I say good parent because that is how a child will remember to hope against all hope long after the parent is gone. God was necessary. The necessity being – if God is not, then who is watching? And for human’s infinite possibility for action, the best surveillance comes from this really elderly man in the skies. School songs, “there’s a father up above who is looking down at us, so be careful” in everything you do – were taught and sung to instill ‘godly fear’.
Such identity begins in action and ends in judgment. Because God is elderly and powerful (and his nickname almighty is not to be taken casually), you want to be in his good books. You don’t want him to destroy you, or worse, hate you for eternity. So you play the validation game with God – this validation being particularly quintessential.
If God is to be pleased merely by action, then anybody can please him. And since God seems quite important, one must normally want to please him. This God-pleasing lifestyle is called religiosity. You act to please God – you are religious. Whether or not you are then able to please Him cannot be said – that is some risk and a lot of pressure.
Growing up, I was often met with badass-es. People who were seeking little validation from anybody. You could not throw validation at them the way you would throw a bone at your dog and pat his back when he brings it back. Good Boy! They say. These were not good boys (or girls!) Now when I think of them, they were exercising some freedom from religiosity. Interestingly, this did not make them feel a lack of worth. Perhaps it is the gripping quality of darkness, or shamelessness, whichever. Risk your reputation, Rumi says, be notorious! And so, I risked my reputation many times in the course of my dysfunctional religiosity, also tasted notoriety on purpose.
Actions must not base identity, or for the worse, it will either infuse repetitive guilt or make-believe evil. By merely doing good, man does not lose the ability to do evil. And by doing evil, man does not lose the ability to do good. And therefore, actions cannot define inherent identity, nor worth.
Much before this revelation happened, one angry day, I smoked a cigarette and decided I was evil. Many angry days followed. Moral/karmic clash had unsettled me and doing good was not enough anymore. This happens! Sooner or later, artificial religiosity, no matter how immensely inculcated, loses ground to life experiences unless some degree of hypocrisy takes lead. It is common to man – I see this is not working for me anymore – he says.
But doing evil was not sufficient. The inside battle between love for religiosity (I will not say love for God) and pent-up anger was on the surge. I had been wronged, but where do I vent? If God was displeased with evil people, I wanted to witness. If he wanted to pat my back for being a good dog, I wanted to be patted too. Perhaps I was far more interested in God that He was in me. Like young girls pique about boys they fancy, perhaps not as smitten with me as I was with him. If God is, is he a social elite? How do I socialize with this God I live to please?
An unapproachable authority, frankly, is no authority at all. If Man and God have anything to do with each other, at some point, their universes must collide. There has to be a Garden of Eden where Man can walk with God, and their relationship can have newfound meaning. Why does man live to please a God who is so stranger? The least He can be is an acquaintance. Oh, I met him once! God who is, and God who cares!
For now, I will pause here. I believe these are important questions. Who do we live to please and why? Who sits at the root of our morality, if any? People once believed the Sun moves around the Earth. Now we know that the Earth moves around the Sun. That changed so much, if not everything. These questions have the potential to shift the center of our universe, to add, remove or refine meaning, or fundamentally alter our entire being. Is God real? Does He have a plan for our life? If no, is life still meaningful? Does toil make sense? What is our potential worth? And, can we ever fulfill our destiny? Life demands meaning.
Let each man be satisfied to the measure of his own hunger.
Featured picture by Shalom Christopher